Zac McDorrIt is the end of an era. Bath has voted to ban plastic bags and Styrofoam containers, joining Brunswick, Freeport, and other local communities. Where did it all begin?

Styrofoam is a name trademarked by Dow Chemical. The actual name of the white stuff is “foamed polystyrene.” Polystyrene was discovered in 1839 by German apothecary Eduard Simone, who didn’t know what it was. In 1922, Herman Staudinger discovered that it was a plastic polymer, and his research won him the Nobel Prize in chemistry.

Polystyrene was first sold commercially in 1930, and offered by Dow Chemical in 1937.

Styrofoam itself was an accidental discovery, much like vulcanized rubber, Silly Putty, and Post-It notes. It was a good insulator, but it was brittle and inflexible. A Dow engineer named Ray McIntire tried to turn polystyrene flexible and rubber-like by injecting it with another chemical under pressure. Instead, he wound up with a foamy substance 30 times lighter than regular polystyrene. Styrofoam was born.

Though it is extremely useful, Styrofoam can last centuries in a landfill, and recycling the stuff is not economically feasible. That’s why Bath and other communities do not take Styrofoam in recycle bins (seriously folks, stop putting it out there), and that’s why it is being banned.

In 1965, a Swedish company called Celloplast filed a U.S. patent for a “T-shirt plastic bag,” which is the plastic grocery bag we are all familiar with. The first plastic grocery bag did not appear in the U.S. until 1979, and Kroger and Safeway began using them in 1982. However, most stores did not use them and customers preferred paper bags.

The Society of Plastic Engineers worked hard to promote the bags. Between 1985 and 1995, plastic bag use grew from 25 percent of the market to 80 percent.

Plastic bags are not accepted for recycling either.

Not that it matters much longer …